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Technology lets customers skip checkout line

Standing in a long checkout line or waiting for a server to return with the check are an annoyance for customers and diners. That's why some stores and restaurants are testing a variety of new checkout and ordering systems that help customers skip the wait.

Here's a taste of how businesses are using checkout streamlining systems -- and some food for thought to digest before you integrate them into your business.

Checkout streamlining picks up steam
Small businesses and large retailers alike are getting in on the trend. Here are a few of the recent developments. checkout-line

  • Upscale retailer Nordstrom began moving its payment operations away from traditional checkout lanes in 2011. The company now provides employees with modified iPod Touch devices that function as full POS systems, enabling customers to make their purchases anywhere in the store.
  • In December 2011, service industry software developer HubWorks Interactive has been testing an iPad ordering and payment system at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Toronto and Minneapolis. An iPad with a card reader attached to the tables allows customers to browse the menu, place orders and pay for their meals without the assistance of a server.
  • In December 2012, payment technology company NCR introduced the NCR Mobile Pay app for restaurants. With NCR Mobile Pay, restaurant patrons can either scan a QR code or use their mobile browser to access a URL that displays their check. They can review their order, add to it and alert their server when they need help. To pay for their meal, diners simply enter their credit card information into NCR Mobile Pay's secure, encrypted system, which is integrated into the restaurant's point-of-sale systems. NCR says that its Mobile Pay system helps improve order accuracy, increases speed of service and reduce credit card fraud because the actual credit card is never handled by a server.
  • Wal-Mart has been experimenting with a mobile self-checkout system, called Scan and Go. The test has so far been limited to Wal-Mart employees, who can use an app on their iPhones to scan items as they shop in the chain's Bentonville, Ark., store. The system does not include the ability to complete the purchases via mobile phone, however. Wal-Mart began using the Scan and Go system in August 2012, but has not had much to say about its plans for expanding the offering to all customers or to additional stores.
  • QThru is a mobile app that lets retail store shoppers skip the checkout lines. It is currently being deployed in the Myers Group IGA grocery stores in the northwest U.S.

    Grocery shoppers download the QThru app -- available for both the iOS and Android operating systems -- and provide their credit card information, which is stored in a secure, PCI DSS-compliant, payment cloud.  Using their mobile device as a scanner, customers can then check out items as they go down the aisles.

Because the QThru system already has the payment information stored, QThru transactions don't have to go through the normal checkout process.

"QThru provides a small kiosk off to the side so that shoppers get their own superfast mobile checkout lane," says Aaron Roberts, the company's CEO.

Perks of checkout streamlining
Besides helping customers make purchases more efficiently, some checkout streamlining options encourage loyalty and interactivity.NCR Mobile Pay allows diners to post restaurant reviews and share their experiences via their social media networks. QThru, meanwhile, can pick up and integrate any customer loyalty program that the retailer already offers.

"It opens up a lot of interesting ways to bring customers back into the store," Roberts says. For example, retailers can send coupons offering discounts or a free item to customers who use the QThru system.

Another added benefit: Helping customers check out quickly might get them to spend more. According to Forbes Magazine, both the average number of items sold and the average selling price of items at Nordstrom have increased since Nordstrom began equipping its sales reps with mobile checkout gear.

Roberts doesn't have the figures for the average dollar amount per purchase for QThru users, but says that the grocery stores have seen customers using their mobile phones to check out as much as $70 or $80 worth of merchandise.

"We tend to think that the people who are going to use it are just the ones who want to get in and out of the store quickly, but perhaps we're changing their behavior a bit," he says. "Knowing that they can get out of a store quickly may even encourage people to spend more. We have noticed, over time, that there has been an increase in basket size."

Potential problems
One thing that could slow the adoption of checkout streamlining systems is retailers' reluctance to use self-checkout systems. Although self-checkouts are expected to increase by 10 percent in the next several years, according to an April 2012 story by USA Today, some big retailers such as Ikea and the Albertsons' grocery store chain have pulled out their self-checkout lanes.  They say it's because self-checkout lanes don't allow them to provide good customer service, but losses from shoplifting may also play a role.

Roberts says QThru has built loss protection into the service, flagging store personnel to double-check any high-margin items.

"There's a little more scrutiny that goes into the approval process," he says. "[Store personnel] are looking in your basked with the receipt, just like they might at a Costco or Sam's Club."

Mobile self-checkouts aren't appropriate for every type of store, either. Magic Beans, a toy and baby store with five Massachusetts locations, tested AisleBuyer, an app that lets customers pay by phone and skip the lines, for about two years before Intuit took the company over and shut down the app's further development.

Magic Beans isn't looking for a replacement because they found the system didn't fit their business model.

"It depends on the merchants and what their service level is like," says Isaac Judd chief operating officer of Magic Beans. "We interact a lot with our customers and spend a lot of time with them, so self-checkout was less necessary for us than it might be for other stores." He said the system was used most heavily around the holidays, when customers could use it to avoid long lines.

Magic Beans will be looking at a different approach in the future, looking at a mobile payment system that doesn't involve self-checkout, Judd says.

See related: 6 ways to streamline your online checkout, Mobile gift cards can give small businesses an edge

Published: February 26,2020

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